Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood-Yorty Odyssey, Part One by Greg Dziawer

Three-time Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty had a connection to our own Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Logo for Yorty's local chat show.
In Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992), actor Conrad Brooks claims that, circa 1967, Wood "was either driving a cab or working for Sam Yorty, writing campaign speeches." In that same book, Grey states that Ed Wood worked for Sam Yorty in 1964 at KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles and "may well have directed segments" of Yorty's local talk show.

Mayor Sam, as he was sometimes affectionately known, endured three tumultuous terms as Mayor of Los Angeles from 1963 through 1971. Although he remained active in politics before and after this, including two terms in the House of Representatives from 1951 to 1955, his occasional appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, per the IMDb, all occurred during his stint as Mayor. Yorty also helmed his own talk show in LA, on and off again, through the '60s and '70s, and even appeared on Truth or Consequences with host Bob Barker. 

As we begin to examine the connections between Wood and Yorty, consider the following pieces of evidence:

  • Buddy Hyde is a name familiar to serious Wood fans, no doubt. He is quoted a handful of times in Nightmare of Ecstasy. Buddy produced Cris' TV show Criswell Predicts. Additionally, Buddy and Cris were invited by Ed to attend the shoot of Necromania and peruse the film's two principal sets. Furthermore, Ed and John Agar stopped by to see Buddy in 1977 to borrow some cash for booze. Buddy attended Ed's funeral service, as did Cris. And Buddy, too, worked for Sam Yorty. 
  • Ed has also been credited as working on the TV series Criswell Predicts

So what does all of this mean?

I was googling a couple of weeks ago, digging into Sam Yorty, wondering if I could somehow find a clue that linked to Ed's involvement with the Mayor. Not far into it, I hit upon an article that startled me. It was about Buddy Hyde.

From a newspaper story about Hyde.
The article, published twice locally in Hyde's hometown of Hagerstown, MD (on October 5 and 7, respectively), is a treasure-trove of relevant details. Apart from painting a very reverential portrait of Hyde—deservedly so, as the article reveals a fascinating career—we learn of Hyde's close association with Mayor Sam Yorty. (And Christine Jorgensen?!?) 

If Ed did, indeed, work on shoots for Yorty's LA-market talk show as early as 1964, we have to wonder if Buddy was also there. Despite the quote in Nightmare of Ecstasy that Hyde produced Criswell Predicts in the late '60s, the show itself—originally 15 minutes of filler also sometimes repeated and scattered throughout the day's schedule—aired from 1953 through 1961, initially on LA's Channel 13 KCOP. Could Ed and Buddy have linked up that early, and with Cris? 

This is just the starting point for this Odyssey, ultimately endeavoring to identify the nature of Ed's work for Mayor Sam Yorty. As an accountant would say, we are also promised positive externalities. Namely Criswell. And a better handle on Cris' relationship with Ed, as well as a clearer understanding of the famed psychic's TV series, radio show, and syndicated newspaper column. 

As one final bit of ephemera: Criswell name-checked Buddy Hyde in that selfsame column, which by then was in its final days. (Also a common theme in Criswell Predicts: predicting that female impersonators would stage The Women in Vegas, "creating a new trend.") By 1975, Criswell's column retained the tagline "An Accurate Glimpse of Your Future," but Cris' picture had been replaced by a simple graphic image of an observatory and a few surrounding planets. 

Ed's star, too, had disappeared from the firmament, though not for long.

We'll return to the Wood Yorty Odyssey here, in future Ed Wood Wednesdays, and untangle the impossible story of Ed's involvement in the day-to-day dialogue of the national political scene during a cataclysmic time. 

And—oh yeah—while he was involved in that, he was also writing porn.

NOTE: Additional newspaper clippings related to Buddy Hyde and Criswell can be found at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.